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How this Florida sheriff's office uses their bodycam system to meet citizen expectations

From resolving complaints to highlighting good deeds, sharing video footage can promote transparency and build trust


Sponsored by BodyWorn by Utility

By Layne Radlauer for Police1 BrandFocus

With many states and agencies making body-worn cameras a standard part of the uniform, one thing is clear: BWCs are here to stay. And that’s a good thing, for both the public and the police.

Osceola County Sheriff's Office in Florida uses body camera video to promote transparency with the public.
Osceola County Sheriff's Office in Florida uses body camera video to promote transparency with the public. (Osceola County Sheriff's Office)

BWCs and in-car cameras offer the potential for unprecedented transparency to the public that can be transformative for LEOs and police departments. Sharing video can not only vindicate law enforcement officers falsely accused of wrongdoing,  it can be used to draw attention to positive instances of officers interacting with the community, thus helping officers to build trust with their constituents while building a safer and more effective law enforcement agency.

THINNING THE LINE

One of the first benefits of body cameras that many agencies realized early on was the value of footage in investigating complaints against police.

“Somebody calls in and says, ‘Your deputy did X, Y and Z.’ All I have is their word and my deputy’s word. It becomes challenging,” said Lt. Brian Adams of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, “but with a body camera, that all goes away.”

Osceola County, one of the largest counties in the state, is mostly rural despite being part of the Orlando metropolitan area. The department has over 400 sworn deputies, 175 of which are on patrol.

Adams, a strong proponent of BWCs, learned the value of video from personal experience, having once gotten caught up in a scenario that was resolved by sharing footage of the incident.

When he was a traffic sergeant, Adams stopped a teenage male driver doing 95 miles an hour on the freeway.

“I had some strong words for him about it because he reminded me of my son, and I wrote him a ticket,” said Adams. “He goes and tells his mom I grabbed him by the back of the head and slammed him face-first into the hood of my car. So, his mom comes in and she’s furious.”

Adams then showed the bodycam footage to the mother. She changed her mind.

“She apologized profusely for even doubting me,” he said. “If his mom didn’t have that video to see for herself, then she wouldn’t know whether or not I actually did what her son accused me of.”

Without that video, it would have been the teenager’s words against the LEO’s.

Having been convinced by this experience the value of cameras to law enforcement, Adams led the initiative to implement bodycams and in-vehicle cameras at the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office.

There are many good options when it comes to body camera and in-vehicle camera systems. The hard part is deciding which system is right for your agency’s needs. Osceola County Sheriff’s Office approached this important implementation methodically, looking at seven different camera systems – including those from leading providers. They narrowed their selection to four – Coban, Axon, Utility and Watchguard – which were field-tested over the course of the year.

“Utility ultimately was the one we picked,” said Adams. “I think it's the best solution for us, based on our budget and the needs of our agency”

KEEPING DEPUTIES ACCOUNTABLE

But that’s not the only way Osceola County Sheriff’s Office uses its camera system to promote transparency and safety.

Utility’s AVaiLWEB evidence management platform works with RocketIoT, the company’s in-car video and communications hub, to monitor an deputy’s speed. After reaching a certain threshold, the system starts recording video and documenting the vehicle’s route and speed.

Adams has the in-vehicle cameras set to automatically activate the camera and start recording anytime the vehicle hits 90 mph.

“I can tell you that we don’t get a whole lot of speeding complaints out of our deputies anymore,” he said.

It can also deter a deputy from engaging in risky driving. If, for example, a call comes in about an armed robbery in progress, a deputy may be tempted to speed across town to respond. No matter how important it is to get there quickly, driving 90 mph down the highway can be dangerous.

“When you hit 110, it emails the captain,” said Adams. “They think in the back of their mind, ‘Well, I can’t do 110 because the captain’s going to know.’ Subconsciously, the system stops them from going too fast, which may save their life or someone else’s.”

INCREASING MEASURES FOR DEPUTY SAFETY

The department’s Utility camera system has other features that can help protect deputies.

BodyWorn’s built-in accelerometer can detect when an deputy starts running on foot, and its Deputy Down feature can detect when an deputy goes prone in the field. Both features support deputy safety by automatically sending an alert and the deputy’s GPS coordinates to nearby deputys and the dispatcher via the AVaiLWEB platform.

“There is peace of mind that if something were to happen and the deputy didn’t get on the radio, then we’re going to at least know it within 30 seconds if there’s a problem,” said Adams.

CAMERAS DON’T LIE

BWCs are designed to record a LEO’s perspective of an incident, but that doesn’t always tell the whole story. The same incident viewed from different angles can sometimes paint a very different picture, as can footage that has been artificially enhanced to make a detail more visible than it would have been to the deputy’s naked eye.

“We want to see what the deputy sees as an incident is evolving” said Adams. The camera can often show the public how quickly incidents can escalate and turn dangerous. What may seem like an overreaction by the deputy on paper, can ultimately be determined to be an appropriate response after reviewing the camera footage.

FLIP THE SCRIPT

By now, most police know the damage that can be done to the profession when a video of an deputy making a mistake spreads like wildfire on social media. But good deeds don’t get the same amount of attention.

What if more footage of all the good things law enforcement officers do was released to the public? What if more people knew about this NYPD police officer who was filmed carrying a 4-year-old girl to an ambulance after she was hit by a stray bullet in Times Square. Not only did the officer help save the girl’s life, she later raised money to help with the girl’s medical expenses. The officer’s on-duty act of heroism and off-duty act of generosity garnered the department much-needed positive attention.

While the movement to mandate BWCs may stem from public demands, it can be beneficial for LEOs. BWCs hold not only police accountable, but the public, too.

“I think that society as a whole believes that law enforcement are good people,” said Adams, “but the media sensationalizes every time an deputy does something wrong. When’s the last time you heard about doing something right? So, while having these cameras helps protect and vindicate us, it also helps us put some of the good stories out.”

Visit BodyWorn for more information.

Read next: How your body-worn camera system can improve situational awareness and enhance officer safety

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